A wrinkled old lizard in the bedroom.jpg

A wrinkled old lizard in the bedroom

Sunday, May 14

WITH A sense of foreboding, I am sitting in a first class seat on a Virgin train from London to Manchester. My internet ticket, carriage and seat number all correspond, but I am certain I didn’t book first class. I feel like an impostor about to be exposed. Along the carriage (probably called car nowadays) are a group of 20-somethings who, if anything, seem less first class than me.

We haven’t trundled out of the London sprawl yet and one of them, a brash blonde with a shrill voice, is on her third phone call, all at full volume for public effect. Fortunately, we are separated by a few empty seats so I don‘t have to make a big show of avoiding eye-contact and looking indifferent.

I have just been looking at the free magazine, provided by Virgin. As a first class passenger, I can expect free food and drink, a free newspaper, headphones with which to listen to my favourite radio station and all sorts of wonders. The glossy brochure is packed with appealing photographss of handsome, athletic businessmen being served bacon and eggs by servile waiters.

London grey is now replaced by country grey; there are bits of green in between the grey blobs. The guard punched my ticket a few miles back, so it seems I am first class after all.

No servile waiter has appeared, so I am now in the buffet car after flitting through second class with my eyes averted from the masses. My request for my free drink and food is greeted by sucked teeth and the news that my cappuccino will have to be binned and replaced with a normal (rank) coffee. The free food turns out to be a packet of biscuits, and anything more substantial will have to be paid for. I order a bacon butty and mentally plan my letter of complaint. The bacon butty (microwaved in a plastic bag) is shoved into my hands still blistering hot and the hostess smiles for the first time.

Thursday, May 18

My week up north has been invigorating and fun; staying with a friend, Teresa, and catching up with other old friends. Teresa has driven me up and down the windswept, rain lashed Yorkshire moors and introduced me to the Peak district, where we climbed endlessly to be rewarded with spectacular views. The green, wet, cold landscape is such a contrast to Portugal. During my time alone, I took train journeys out and sampled the various delights of Barnsley and Sheffield.

I am now in Leeds/Bradford airport, suffering from extreme shock. The airport is the size of a small Tesco store, with the aircraft pulling right up to what would be the disabled parking at the front. Northern airport etiquette appears to involve going into the bar and sinking as many pints as you can before take-off.

Breathing is quite difficult on account of the thick film of cigarette smoke hanging heavily in the air, and conversation is an impossibility due to the general loud merriment, as all around get steadily bladdered. The coffee bar (not of the pretentious latte variety) is completely empty, so I sit alone among hamburger debris, a southerner out of his league.

Thursday, May 25

Back home. The sun is shining and everything in the world seems calm – well sort of. Three days ago, our ducklings (one-month-old and adopted by the geese) discovered the ability to freefall from their terrace to the one below. This happening is announced by loud goose honking and necessitates me racing the cats to get there first. A little game of chase and catch then develops until each duckling is reinstated to its rightful place. This has happened daily for the past three days, serving as a reminder that my time here is not all about leisure. There are nine ducklings, I have rescued about 72 (counting repeated fallings) and one has gone missing completely, leaving eight.

Martyn (currently in the UK) has taken over vegetable production during my absence and has planted out tomatoes, cucumbers and Swiss chard. In seed trays, he has a good range of pumpkins, melons and aubergines growing, and is toying with an irrigation system.

I plan to focus more of my time organising the garden this summer, putting into place a structure that doesn’t disappear under six feet of weed growth every spring.

Sleeping has become something of a nightmare as, no sooner did Martyn depart, than a wrinkled old lizard took his place. It entered the bedroom and refuses to leave, hovering threateningly over my bed at night, no matter how much manic hand waving and towel flicking I subject it to. When it does move (its choosing not mine), it insists upon making a strange gurgling sound. So now I lie awake listening for it ….

Sunday, May 28

Took the dogs for a walk across the river today and discovered the missing duck – headless – another mongoose victim. The lizard is still in residence!